The 2010 national and local elections are supposed to be crucial elections. Automation is therefore being pushed as a major attempt to ensure its credibility and prevent cheating. Nobody–except the cheating squads and their odious clientele–wants another six years of energy-sapping political crisis.
Yet, as preparations start to emerge into the reality of electoral conduct, there are disturbing issues which need to be addressed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Executive and Congress.
One, it is still the weakness of the Commission on Elections (and this can be squarely laid before Malacañang) that there is nobody among them who has a serious background on information technology (despite the demands of electoral automation), management of large projects (delivering 80,000 machines to all corners of the country, maintaining them, and ensuring security, efficiency and accuracy is no joke), and political sense (political crisis management!). It is heavily populated by lawyers, and has no gender balance. Most are also unknown to the the electoral community, much more have electoral reform background.
Two, there are still disturbing loopholes in the electoral process, even as automation attempts to bridge part of the gaps that may be used by the cheating teams. We still have no reliable national voters list. Of the estimated 50 million voters in the current list for the 2010 elections, there is an estimated 5 million or 10 percent who are multiple voters, under-aged, have already died or moved to other locations, or simply bogus names in the list. The expensive biometrics can only catch multiple voters. This means that , even if implemented (which is still hanging at this time), it will not solve the problem of credibility of the voters list. The Comelec is also losing its appetite to conduct an honest-to-goodness general registration to renew a 12-year old list.
The voters list problem will give rise to the problem of ghost precincts whose results cannot be prevented by the automated machines from entering into the count. And if voters and candidates do not yet know this, the Comelec in its latest resolution allows the precinct-based machines to count any ballot from other precincts within a municipality, leading to fears that the infamous lanzadera (ballot-switching) and other precinct-level cheating to still be performed.
The Executive and Congress have still to prove their support for a clean and honest 2010 elections. The supplemental automation budget still has to pass Congress and the window is fast closing for its implementation–end-February stands as a major deadline for the budget law. The appointment choices of the president to fill up the four vacant seats betrayed the whimsical nature of the appointments. Her choices disregarded both the recommended names in the list both her own selection committee and the citizen search committee. Indeed, to be selected and recommended for Comelec commissionership is a kiss of death–an experience, I am sure, which chief prosecutor Zuño does not want to go through again.
It would take a lot of hard work, sincere effort, and political will to make election automation work. I hope the Comelec and everybody involved produce these in abundance. And still, at the end of the day, the people will have to turn out in massive numbers to protect their votes.